The first in a series of fall sport team previews. Look for previews on Volleyball (Wed.), Women's Soccer (Thu.), and Men's Soccer (Fri.) later this week with cross country and football previews to follow. For news and updates on Bates Athletics, follow @BatesSports on Twitter and Bates College Athletics on Facebook.
LEWISTON, Maine – First-year head coach Danielle Ryder looks to bring change to the Bates College field hockey program with a revamped playing style and a new mental approach.
As she enters her first season as the leader of the Bobcats, Ryder will seek to install a more structured system on the field and a reinvigorated attitude throughout the program. The 2008 Stonehill graduate has a history of helping turn around programs from her playing days, to her time as an assistant coach at Tufts (2009-10), to her stint as the head coach at the University of New England (2011-12).
"I think I understand what kind of energy and work it takes to turn a program around," Ryder said.
Ryder plans on making positive changes throughout the program as she seeks to bring a new culture and perspective to the team.
"I think the advantage in your first year is that it's all new, and if you approach it in a way that's exciting and a challenge that's fun for the team to accomplish together, it usually goes well," Ryder said. "We have to make changes, but we have to be tactful when we make those changes."
One of the most visible differences in the program will come on the field as Ryder implements a new style of play.
"We'll be using a different lineup, which will be fun to teach them and incorporate in trying to get them to see the game a little bit differently than in the past," Ryder said.
Ryder as well as first-year assistants, Annie Kietzman and Hailey Chadbourne, will also look to make changes in the team's training program. The staff hopes to bring a new level of fitness to the team's players through cardiovascular and strength training in addition to improved stick-and-ball skills.
The Bobcats return six players who started at least 10 games a season ago including senior co-captain Polly Merck (Beverly Farms, Mass.), a Second Team All-NESCAC selection last year. A forward, Merck led the team in goals (7), assists (4), and points (18) in 2012 and will serve as a co-captain alongside senior midfielder Sarah Warden (North Andover, Mass.) who has played in 25 games in her Bates career.
"I do think that Sarah and Polly are going to be really crucial this year," Ryder said. "They understand that this is their year to prepare the program for what the future is. I think they'll be really important in bridging that gap between the coaching staff and the team as we move forward."
Bates welcomes back three of its top scorers from last year's campaign in Merck, junior Caroline Falcone (New Canaan, Conn.), and senior Bridget Meedzan (Ipswich, Mass.). In 2012, Falcone ranked tied for second on the team with five goals while Meedzan contributed three goals and an assist.
Defensively, the Bobcats bring back three players who started at least 11 games last season – senior Lexie Carter (Saco, Maine), junior Jillian Conway (Andover, Mass.), and sophomore Hannah Beinecke (Manchester, Mass.). Carter stands as the most seasoned of the trio with 34 career games played.
With a mix of other returning veterans and newcomers, a number of players should have the opportunity to compete for playing time alongside the team's returning starters.
"They are definitely a very mature group. They're ready for change, and they're eager for some new ideas," Ryder said.
Competing in the NESCAC
The Bobcats will face another demanding schedule in 2013 in the always-competitive NESCAC which sent three teams to last year's NCAA Tournament including national champions, Tufts, and No. 1-overall seed, Middlebury.
"It's the absolute hardest conference to be playing in for field hockey in Division III, and I think that goes for a lot of sports in the NESCAC," Ryder said. "The NESCAC – not just in field hockey – has a tradition of being the best. For field hockey that's absolutely true, and so we're competing against the top teams in the country."
Ryder takes a realistic outlook on the team's potential growth but will look to make as immediate an impact as possible on the program's place in the standings.
"I think the biggest thing is getting the program out of the bottom three of the NESCAC," Ryder said. "It's a difference of one or two games to bump you up from the bottom three to that middle bracket where we'd like to be at least this year and next year and hopefully move up from there."
As she begins to put her fingerprints on the program, Ryder feels that with time the team can make significant strides towards becoming a contender in the NESCAC and the nation.
"I think Bates has the world of potential. As far as where I see the program going, I see us being at the top of the NESCAC," Ryder said. "We want to be competing in the NCAA tournament, we want to be competing for the NCAA title, but it will take some time."
Ryder hopes to use the institutional reputation of Bates to bring the team to a higher level as she starts to make her mark on the program.
"The program has been successful in the past," Ryder said. "There really is no reason why one of the best schools in the country can't attract athletes to make a field hockey program to match."